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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Mars fans unite tonight

Rodney Haas / Arizona Daily Wildcat

This 3D scale model of the surface of Mars is a part of the Flandrau Science Centers exhibt of Mars. The science center is teaming up with the Mt. Lemmon SyCenter and Biosphere 2 as a joint Mars exibit. Photo taken Jan. 28, 2010.
Rodney Haas
Rodney Haas / Arizona Daily Wildcat This 3D scale model of the surface of Mars is a part of the Flandrau Science Center’s exhibt of Mars. The science center is teaming up with the Mt. Lemmon SyCenter and Biosphere 2 as a joint Mars exibit. Photo taken Jan. 28, 2010.

Mars is the closest it has been to Earth since 2003, so members of the UA faculty are attempting to bring the red planet a little bit closer to Tucson with a special event. “”Mars: A Celebration of the Red Planet,”” a collaborative effort between the UA Flandrau Science Center, Biosphere 2, and the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, will take place at all three affiliated institutions today.


Life on Mars

The presentation at the Flandrau center will focus primarily on the rapidly changing scientific views of Mars; particularly in the wake of recent research opportunities presented by both the Phoenix Mars Lander and the HiRISE imager aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“”Recently, there has been sort of a revolution in studying Mars,”” said Shane Byrne, an assistant professor of planetary sciences. “”The difference between what we were able to do 10 years ago and what we can do now is literally night and day.””

Byrne’s presentation will focus on the formation and modification of polar ice deposits on Mars. He is studying how they might relate to processes such as glacial movement and tectonic activity occurring on the planet.

“”Scientists had a long-standing belief that Mars was nothing more than a dry, static, desert-like planet,”” Byrne said. “”But recent research has indicated that as much as half the planet may be covered with ice just below the surface.””

These assertions are based on a series of images from HiRISE, which shows, among other things, ice at the bottom of impact craters.

The real discovery is not necessarily the ice, Byrne says, but its implications, particularly from a biological perspective.

“”The application of these discoveries to the ongoing research of life on Mars are clear,”” Byrne said. “”If the climate of Mars was warmer or more humid in the past and water was able to exist in stable liquid form on the surface, then the potential of there having been life is greater.””

Both Byrne and Michael Terenzoni, the astronomy director at the Flandrau center, will be presenting from 6 to 10 p.m. at Flandrau.

Biosphere 3: the Red Planet

Simultaneously, Vic Baker, a UA regents’ professor, will be hosting a presentation at Biosphere 2. Baker’s primary focus is the geophysical and hydrological implications of various landforms on Mars, particularly channels and valleys that appear to have been cut by running water that once existed on the surface.

Of course, Baker does not shy away from the correlation between water and the potential for life on the red planet.

“”There are certain conditions that are associated with life,”” Baker said. “”And recent indicators, everything from chemical effects measured from orbit to soil samples taken on the surface, seem to suggest that at one point these conditions were, in fact, present on Mars, including on the surface.””

Baker’s presentation will address the evidence which exists in support of theories for life on Mars, both in the past and today.

In fact, Baker said, occurrences as trivial as excess methane emissions could be indicative of primitive life, even though it is difficult to prove.

“”That’s the hard part about trying to study a topic of this nature on another planet,”” Baker says. “”On Earth, we can just send out a couple of geologists to look around for a while. On Mars, we have to plan for years to send a couple of robots.””

Baker will also address some of the inherent issues with trying to compare Mars to Earth in this regard.

“”Even if we can pinpoint a location where the environment is conducive to supporting life, there’s still no guarantee that there is life there or that there ever has been,”” Baker said. “”Even things like methane emissions are tricky because we can’t be entirely sure if those emissions are coming from biological, inorganic, or geologic processes.””

Vic Baker will be presenting at Biosphere 2 from 6:30 to 10:00 p.m.

SkyCenter Mars Night

The third program is taking place at the Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter, where Public Observing Programs Coordinator Adam Block will be hosting a hands-on program about Mars.

Taking advantage of the relative proximity of Mars to Earth, Block’s program will allow participants to scan the skies both with pairs of binoculars and the SkyCenter 24-inch telescope.

“”Our program gives people a rare opportunity,”” Block said. “”Not many research institutions will let you walk right up and use their equipment the way we do.””

Block’s program will begin with a quick tour of the SkyCenter itself, accompanied by a brief discussion of their current research. Participants will then be given access to star charts, binoculars and even the telescope.

“”This event is really just a variation of a regular program we offer up here called SkyNights,”” Block said. “”We give people the opportunity to come up here and use the telescope pretty much on a nightly basis, but, with this program, we will look a lot at Mars.””

Those unable to make it up Mt. Lemmon to see Block’s presentation will have the opportunity to see it live via video link at both the Flandrau Science Center and Biosphere 2.

This will give everyone who attends any one of these three programs the opportunity to see the images from Block’s presentation.

Despite the differences in tone and topic of all three presentations, all will address and acknowledge one important thing: the current interest in studying Mars and the undeniable leadership position which the UA has taken in studying Earth’s enigmatic neighbor. 

What: Flandrau Science Presentation

Where: Flandrau: The University of Arizona Science Center 

When: 6:30 to 10 p.m. 

Cost: $7.50 for adults, $5 children ages 4-15, Children under 4 are free. Two dollars off tickets with CatCard.

What: Biosphere 2 Presentation

Where: Biosphere 2

When: 6:30-10 p.m.

Cost: $25 per person

What: SkyCenter Presentation

Where: Mt. Lemmon SkyCenter

When: 3:30-9:30 p.m.

Cost: $48 per person, $25 dollars per youth

Reservations Required, (520) 626-8122  



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